ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Tyreek Hill found himself in the news frequently over the past four months, but Sunday at Chiefs training camp marked the first time Hill himself stepped forward to address some of the controversy surrounding himself and his family.
“I really don't know what to say, except for I'm still growing as a human being," Hill said. “I feel like all of us can learn something from this situation.”
Hill spoke with reporters for more than eight minutes, expressing at times humility, regret and appreciation while also showing brief flashes of frustration. He declined repeatedly to discuss any of the details of the investigation by Johnson County authorities, the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the NFL involving the welfare of his children.
“I cannot get into any that,” Hill said. “I wish I could, but I can't.”
On Saturday, club chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said he had a “frank conversation” with Hill regarding expectations for his responsibilities to return to the Chiefs, but Hill declined to discuss those either.
“I really can't get into that, but all I'm going to say is I've just got to work on my life skills, that's it,” Hill said.
Hill started his press conference by thanking those who supported him in recent months. He included in that group Hunt, head coach Andy Reid, general manager Brett Veach, his teammates, his family and Chiefs fans.
I'm very appreciative of everybody in my life right now,” Hill said. “I can't wait for my new journey. I'm excited, I'm working everyday to be a better father, a better person, a better citizen, a better teammate and a better son to my parents. I'm evolving every day.”
Hill said the journey he's entered into is not to change as a person, but rather grow and evolve.
“I mean, new journey as in me growing as a person, me growing as a father, me growing as a human,” he explained.
The only time the public heard from Hill during the past few months largely came from an audio recording surreptitiously made by his former fiancee, Crystal Espinal. In the recording, Hill and Espinal discussed a range of topics including the investigation into the welfare of their then 3-year-old son and the 2014 incident between the two that led to Hill pleading guilty to domestic assault. Hill said he did not know the recording existed until it became public, but he regretted his language on the recording.
“I don't want nobody talking to my little sister, my daughter that I have now, my mom like that,” Hill said. “That's very disrespectful. My mom got on to me. She like thumped me in the ear like, 'Come on, man, Reek, grow up, grow up out that.' So never again. Like I said, I'm growing as a human being, as a person, and never again.”
On the recording, Espinal alleged Hill tells their son to open up his arms and then punches him in the chest as a punishment. Hill asserts that claim comes out of context, stemming from his teaching his son how to box.
“Because we do got boxing gloves at our house, and our son, he's like Iron Man,” Hill said. “He loves Iron Man, Aquaman, he's like, 'Daddy, come on, come on, come on,' all the time. That's what it is, man. Sometimes things get thrown out of context when feelings get involved and emotions, but I ain't going to get into all that right now.”
Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe announced on April 24 no charges would be filed in his office's investigation involving child abuse allegations, although he stated his belief a crime did occur. The 11-minute audio recording came to light on April 25, and that night the Chiefs asked Hill to refrain from club activities until further notice.
That meant no contact with Reid, although Hill says he knew he still had his coach's support.
“I know that he was still supporting me in the background,” Hill said. “He was still showing me love, I know that, because that's just that family connection that we got.”
The NFL concluded its investigation July 19, announcing Hill would not be suspended. That investigation included an eight-hour plus meeting between Hill and league investigators.
“The meeting was definitely long, it was probably the longest meeting ever of my life, it was crazy,” Hill said. “What I wanted to get across was really just facts, man, but I really can't get into it.”
The star receiver said he didn't know how the league would rule on his status.
“(NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and his team, they did their thing, they dug in and they got all the facts,” Hill said. “I'm very appreciative for those guys as well.”
The 25-year-old player also admitted to personal failings that led him into poor situations, but he believes he learned many lessons during the last few months.
“I learned to just appreciate those around me, man,” Hill said. “I take that for granted sometimes being a professional athlete. I tend to not stay humble sometimes. I still love my kids and I still love my family, but sometimes I feel like I take all those things for granted.”
It was his mother, Hill said, that imported to him the biggest lesson of all.
“My mom told me, 'People don't need to change, they need to grow,'” he explained. “You think of a tree, a tree changes and a tree grows. Every day, my mom told me that, 'Reek, you need to grow, you need to add layers to yourself.' Because if a tree grows, it doesn't go back. So I want to grow, I don't want to change.”
Hill took the next step on his journey this weekend with his return to the field at training camp. Fans gave Hill a warm welcome, chanting “Ty-Reek” as he arrived at practice on Saturday and erupting in the biggest ovations when he was involved in a play. The fans, Hill said, have embraced like family.
“The love feels good, to come back out here, to hear the chants, it's a crazy, man,” he said. ”I'm back, the Cheetah is back, man.”